The Perils of Semantic Subversion

An example of sematic subversion: By making peace and territory interchangeable, the language of "peace" can be used as an instrument of war.

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Prof. Paul Eidelberg,

Paul Eidelberg
Paul Eidelberg
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It is hardly original to say, in this Orwellian age, that semantic subversion has become the norm of international politics. Nevertheless, the logic of semantic subversion and the democratic susceptibility to this phenomenon have yet to be explored with philosophical depth and clarity.  Nor has it been shown why, of all democracies, the modern State of Israel is the most vulnerable to this cognitive impairment. 

Part I. The Root Cause of Semantic Subversion

Because equality more than liberty is the dominant principle of post-modern or contemporary as opposed to classical democracy, democratic societies today are especially prone to semantic subversion.  Consider the class of citizens of a democracy such as the United States who are "eighteen years of age or older." Age alone qualifies any member of that class to vote in national elections regardless of his ethnic loyalty or ideological convictions. He may not only be illiterate, but he may even be opposed to the existence of the state.

This is the case of most of Israel’s Arab citizens, and evidence of such disloyalty will also be found among Muslims in America. Nevertheless, having reached the age of eighteen qualifies these individuals to vote on the all-important question of who should rule, hence, of what should be the character and ends of the country which has accorded them the rights citizenship.

The purely quantitative and culturally neutral principle of "one adult one vote" virtually implies that contradictory opinions are politically (or at least theoretically) equal, which indicates that contemporary democracy is inherently prone to irrationality. This irrationality will often result in what may be termed “alogical” if not pathological domestic and foreign policies. The disastrous the Oslo or Israel-PLO Agreement of 1993 is a case in point.

However, what is more significant form the purpose of this article is that the theoretical equivalence of all opinions implied in the principle of “one adult one vote” is the ultimate logical reason why semantic subversion thrives in democratic egalitarian societies.

When opinion rules, as it does in any democracy, it is not necessary to examine the truth of an opinion, but only the number of those who express this opinion. Opinion polls tell the story.  They do not indicate an individual opinion is the result of reflection or of impulse, whether it is an abiding conviction or a passing fancy. As a consequence, wherever the quantification of opinions rules, people are less apt to take opinions seriously. Hence they will be less likely to develop the habit of critical thinking or of making logical and moral distinctions. Impulse or the emotions will thus tend to supplant reason and logic. People will become more susceptible to propaganda, whose target is the emotions.

Because democracies are ruled by quantified public opinion, they are predisposed to semantic subversion, especially in this age of mass communications. The adepts of semantic subversion use the media of democracy to concentrate public attention on emotionally appealing and simplistic solutions to complex problems.

For example, politicians (and of course the media) purvey the Arab-Israel conflict as a political one. Yet it should be obvious that politics is merely one aspect of this conflict if only because politics is but one aspect of civilization. Nevertheless, the political mantra of "territory for peace" is bandied about as the key to solving the conflict. A psychical reality, "peace," is thus made equivalent to a material reality, "territory." What is more, by making peace and territory interchangeable, the language of "peace" can be used as an instrument of war, for territory, the semantic equivalent of “peace,” is precisely such an instrument.


The adepts of semantic subversion use the media of democracy to concentrate public attention on emotionally appealing and simplistic solutions to complex problems.
By intoning the word "peace," Arab autocrats stimulate the emotions of democrats. The non-rational or alogical nature of the emotions can then dissolve the ideological differences or asymmetrical relations between democracies and autocracies.

The same sort of semantic manipulation is practiced by many Israeli politicians and intellectuals. Although they sincerely desire peace, they also desire power and prestige (to employ the reductionism of conventional political science). Indeed, the "politics of peace" has become a basic ingredient of Israeli democracy. Its practitioners use the lure and language of peace to discredit their opponents, whom they typically disparage as "hawks" or "hard-liners"—individuals who may have reason to distrust the peace professions of despotic rulers and regimes. 

It was hardly a hawk or war-monger who castigated those who "Cry 'peace, peace,' when there is no peace."  In the 2,500 years that have elapsed since the Prophet Jeremiah's unheeded warning, Western nations alone have been engaged in some 1,000 wars, the bloodiest of which have occurred in the twentieth, the century of ingenuous as well as disingenuous pacifism.[1]

            But the "hawks" in any democracy may also promote semantic subversion, perhaps unwittingly. Many democrats believe that right cannot remain right when invested with force, that the use of force on behalf of justice makes one morally suspect.[2]  People of this persuasion usually identify justice with benevolence. Democracies, they believe, should display good will toward all nations regardless of the latter’s political or ideological character. This symmetrical attitude, which "hawks" share with "doves," requires democratic governments to hobnob with dictatorships. Doing so, however, dignifies unjust regimes and is virtually equivalent to calling evil "good." This leveling of moral distinctions facilitates semantic subversion.

And yet, contrary to this leveling tendency, the ordinary citizen of a democracy does not usually identify justice with benevolence. Nor does he deplore the application of might in defense of right. Unlike cosmopolitan intellectuals, he tends to distrust "foreigners" and has no use for dictatorships. Lacking a university education, he disdains the internationalism fostered in academia. Who, then, is more susceptible to semantic subversion, the more educated or the less educated?  The former, I shall argue.

Consider George Orwell's insights into the attitude of England's left-wing intelligentsia. Writing during the Battle of Britain, Orwell saw that these intellectuals tended to be "pacifists" and "defeatists" in "marked contrast to the common people, who either had not woken up to the fact that England was in danger, or were determined to resist to the last ditch."[3]  England's left-wing intellectuals, writes Orwell, "take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought.  England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality."[4] (Compare the "cosmopolitanism" or multicultural relativism of Barack Hussein Obama—a not very learned socialist.

By the way, it should be noted that Orwell was a socialist of uncommon intellectual integrity. The brilliant author of 1984 was quite cognizant of the moral relativism permeating England's intelligentsia: "When I first read D. H. Lawrence's novels ... I was puzzled by the fact that there did not seem to be any classification of the characters into 'good' and 'bad.'  Lawrence seemed to sympathize with all of them equally, and this was so unusual as to give me the feeling of having lost my bearings. Today no one would think of looking for heroes and villains in a serious novel, but in lowbrow fiction one still expects to find a sharp distinction between right and wrong ... The common people, on the whole, are still living in the world of absolute good and evil from which intellectuals have long since escaped."[5]

The logical extension of homogenizing "good" and "bad" individuals is to homogenize "good" and "bad" regimes. The consequence of this multicultural moral relativism is to facilitate semantic subversion to which the literati succumb more readily than those they term "philistines."

It is precisely the cultural relativism of the democratic world that enables dictators to employ the language of democracy to disarm and destroy democracies. Thus Hitler demanded "self-determination" for the Sudeten Germans to subvert democratic Czechoslovakia­­­­—which he did with the compliance of democratic England and France, and at a time when relativism was gaining ascendancy among the intelligentsia.

 
Part II. Cultural Relativism and Anti-Semitism

Unfortunately, more than semantic subversion and moral relativism are at work when the democratic West insists upon "self-determination” for the so-called Palestinian people.  This slogan, along with that of "territory for peace," is also a facade for anti-Semitism. To appreciate the grotesque character of this state of affairs, consider the following geostrategic facts.


The 21 Arab League countries, taken together, have 485 times more territory than the State of Israel, including what was "occupied" in 1967.  They have 1.3 times more territory than the entire continent of Europe and 1.5 times more than the United States. These Arab countries occupy one-eighth of the earth's land surface.

Moreover, whereas Arab regimes, usually led by colonels dressed in civilian garb, have no peace of their own to give Israel, peace-loving Israel has no territory of its own to give the Arabs. Indeed, were Israel to withdraw from Judea and Samaria, its present width in the central sector of the country would be reduced from 40-55 miles to 9-16 miles. One American military expert has pointed out that "modern weapon systems, most of them with components which require line-of-sight emplacement, if deployed in the [Judean and Samarian] mountains overlooking Israel's population and industrial centers in the coastal strip below, would render the country indefensible."[6]

Nevertheless, while the media now portrays the David of the Six Day War as the Goliath of the "Israeli-Palestinian" conflict, experts in "conflict resolution" and "confidence building" see no reason why 7 million Jews, surrounded by 350 million Muslims, should make so much of this demographic, territorial, and strategic disparity. It would be naive to think that semantic subversion is the only actor in this drama. Indeed, the name of the drama is "anti-Semitism."

It is only by ignoring the oppressive characteristics of Arab regimes that democratized  political scientists can speak of applying such non-Islamic concepts as "conflict resolution" to the war--and it is a war--between Israel and her Arab-Islamic enemies. Whatever Israel and her jihadic neighbors have in common is trivial compared to their differences. The fear of violent death (the foundation of Hobbesian political science) will not homogenize those differences.  Such is their contempt for human life—Islam’s paradise, the houris, promises Muslims the fulfillment of all their sensual desires. This asymmetry between Islam and the secularism of the democratic west is commonly ignored or trivialized by political scientists.

Part III. How Democratic Principles Foster Semantic Subversion

If moral relativism were merely an academic doctrine that predisposes democracies to semantic subversion, philosophical refutation of that doctrine might mitigate if not remedy the danger. It so happens, however, that the two basic principles of democracy, equality and freedom, lend themselves to relativism, hence to semantic subversion.  The idea of equality pervades every aspect of democratic life.  Equality shapes the minds of democracy’s intellectual elites who are plus populaire que la populace, members of “History’s” progressive and enlightening vanguard.  Equality prompts them to extend equality to all domains, not only to moral values or opinions as to how man should live, but even to “animal rights”!

After all, the Great Ape Project reported in the New York Times by Donald G. McNeil Jr. (July 21, 2008) indicates, according to microbiologists, that certain apes possess 95 percent to 98.7 percent of the DNA of humans. The directors of the project, Peter Singer, a Princeton ethicist, and Paolo Cavalierro, an Italian philosopher, regard apes as part of a “community of equals” with humans.

Consistent with this conclusion, a committee of the Spanish parliament voted last month to grant limited rights to our closest biological relatives—chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. Why not, seeing that the genomes of these apes are almost equal to that of humans?

Meanwhile, equality also reinforces, and is reinforced by, democracy's other basic principle, freedom--commonly defined as "living as you like." The exaltation of "self-actualization" in psychology and of "self-determination" in politics follows. The absence of ethical and rational constraints on self-actualization and self-determination cannot but eventuate in mental disorders (a subject discussed in my book Demophrenia.)

We thus see that moral relativism is not only an academic doctrine; it is also the logical and psychological extension of democratic freedom and equality. This is why democracy provides fertile soil for semantic subversion.  Democracy was not always so.

In the youth of democracy, when the influence of a religious and aristocratic age was still felt, moral relativism had no easy foothold.  So long as a strong religious or even secular faith inspired people, democracy could thrive and resist semantic subversion. But with the ascendancy of moral relativism in the West, a morally neutral foreign policy has made democracies more susceptible to the blandishments and peace offensives of democracy's enemies. Today democracy's political and intellectual elites believe that genuine and abiding peace should be possible among nations regardless of their ideological character.  It was not always so.

For sixteen years the United States refused to recognize the Soviet Union, a country having the largest land mass on earth. It will be instructive to learn why various American administrations, including that of Woodrow Wilson, would have no truck with the rulers of the Kremlin, whose mastery of semantic subversion inspired such Orwellian neologisms as "newspeak" and "doublethink."

"The Bolsheviks ... openly propose to excite revolutions in all countries against existing governments; they are hostile to democracy as they are to autocracy.  If we should recognize them in Russia, we would encourage them and their followers in other lands... To recognize them would give them an exalted idea of their power, make them more insolent and impossible, and win their contempt, not their friendship... As to Lenin and Trotsky I am in doubt... For national and personal honor, for truth and for individual rights of life, liberty and property they seem to have no regard."  (Secretary of State Robert Lansing, 1917)

It was not until 1933 and the administration of Franklin Roosevelt that the U.S. accorded diplomatic recognition to the USSR. Since then Washington has recognized terrorist states such as Syria and has financed the PLO Palestinian Authority, the lackey of the Arab world.

Today countless intellectuals have been liberated from the "delusion" of truth by relativism, in consequence of which they have succumbed to the delusions of falsehood.  This is especially true of those in Israel who have abandoned the Book of Truth.

The Israel-PLO Agreement of 1993 illustrates that Israel's ruling elites have been tainted by the university-bred doctrine of multicultural moral relativism. This has made Israel the most susceptible victims of semantic subversion.
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[1] Pitirim Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age (New York:  E. P. Dutton & Co., 1942), pp. 213-216.

[2]See Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (New York:  W. W. Norton & Co., 1969), p. 188 (originally published in 1928 under the title La Trahison des Clercs).  Benda was aware of the moral relativism then gaining ascendancy among French intellectuals.

[3]Sonia Orwell & Ian Angus, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (4 vols.; London:  Secker & Warburg. 1968), II, 53, 103.

[4]Ibid., II, 74-75.

[5]Ibid., III, 223.  See, also, ibid., IV, 153-155, where Orwell takes a Professor J. D. Bernal to task for his moral relativism.

[6]Edward Saar, "The West Bank and Modern Arms," Nativ:  A Journal of Politics and the Arts, 1:1 (1990, English edition).  Edward Saar is the pen name of an American professor.